Young Critics Review Ballet Black


The Ballet Black show was split into three contrasting story’s. Going from a love story – to a humorous story – to a sad one; and the tension for each story got bigger as it went through. All shows portrayed their story through narrative, and although there was a small amount of speech, almost all of it was shown through costumes, lighting, movement and facial expressions. The lack of speech left a space to interpret each story, which let my imagination run wild throughout.

The emotions were shown through facial expressions and the movement of the body as much as they could – and not in the way a mime does, but rather through full-body movement and cooperation between the actors. The little number of props and speech made each story slightly hard to understand. Throughout the first 2, they didn’t show us any clue to who the people were and where they were, apart from getting a name through music in the 2nd one. However, the last one showed us what type of place it was through various props and lighting but left the people a mystery for the imagination.

The lighting directors really did a good job of setting such an incredibly captivating atmosphere throughout the whole show. Lights and costumes made the last 2 acts stand out rather a lot for me, and the lighting around us was used cleverly and made us focus on certain things. In the last one, it was amazingly used to create multiple atmosphere’s and feelings, and the torchlights in the darkness of the hall were pleasing to watch.

The music always met hand in hand with what was going on. In the first part the music started off as a simple drum beat and whilst the scene moved forward the music grew in volume and more instruments are introduced; it eventually becomes constant noise as the movements in the dance became stronger and more deliberate. In the second story, snapping of fingers takes the beat whilst an 80’s style song moves its way in. The song reflects the costumes that the dancers were wearing. And the final story had almost no music but rather a drum beat and strings; which complemented the sad story quite well.

The 3 parts kept getting better and better right from the start for me. The constant upping of enjoyment help me to be interested throughout and left me on a big high note at the end of the performance. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the second story, the last ultimately took the biscuit; as it used all of the aspects together and to their full potential. Altogether, the music fitted well with every scene and the dancing kept it interesting. This was my first experience of dance performance and I would definitely watch them again.-

Elliott Brake


When most people think of ballet, they imagine the little shows they would put on as children, or the traditional Nutcracker or, like me, not much at all, but the hypnotic display from Ballet Black’s triple bill certainly fell well beyond my assumptions of ballet. Not only were those funny pink slippers removed, but the styles were fused, the music was fresh and the performance was, for the most part, exciting. Three parts, three very different takes on the dance, but all certainly leading me to be a little more enthusiastic about ballet and what it has to offer.

As a non-ballet expert I don’t think I could fully appreciate the first of the trio (Pendulum by Martin Lawrance) because it was all very abstract and I almost didn’t know where to look, despite the stage being minimalistic. Two dancers: a male and a female, both on an emotional pendulum between distance and intimacy; it should have worked, in fact I’m sure it worked for somebody more used to ballet, but my brain just couldn’t keep up with the movement and the ideas behind it. With a cocophany of noise (rather than music) that built and built, I understood the discomfort and tension that the audience was meant to feel, but just couldn’t understand why. That being said, the storytelling was there, and the contrast of the closeness shown in the hugging positions compared to the more distant parts was compelling for me and helped me to get a slight insight into what this all meant. As the piece drew to a close the actions of the protagonists became more interesting, with more mirroring and more urgency; had the piece began with something more similar to this maybe I would have understood it more, but as it was it just got lost in translation for me.

‘Click!’ (by Sophie Laplane) took all the tension built up in ‘Pendulum’ and replaced it all with a buzzing energy that seemed infectious from the minute it began with its finger-snapping background music. Five spotlights, five colours, five dancers all with costume and attitude which had you feeling as if you were back at a disco in the 70s. It would have been easy to give this performance bells and whistles but somehow the myriad of colour seemed cohesive with its own style and character. This was developed in each dancer’s solo section: the woman in yellow seemed effortlessly relaxed and funky, while the green and pink were playful and childlike, and, as if to give us a break from all the excitement, blue and red were melancholy yet romantic. However my favourite bits were the ensemble parts: the glorious ending, in which each colour stood in line becoming increasingly more in synch and increasingly more rapid as the clicks quickened, leaving me wanting a whole show of this light-hearted take on ballet. This seemed the most approachable for a non-ballet audience and perhaps this is why I enjoyed it so much.

Then into the final piece appropriately named Ingoma (song) by Mthuthuzeli November, which was completely unknown territory for me as I had no idea about the South African miners’ strike (which the performance was depicting). I have to admit I still have no idea about the details of this important event but I certainly gained a sense of the blood, sweat and tears poured out. From the beginning I was captivated by the physical take on mining as headlights worn by the dancers scaled the audiences giving us a sense of the vast, dark mining atmosphere: it was an interaction I never would have seen coming but certainly enjoyed. The dancing itself was graceful but in a harsh way to show us the struggle of their world; this definitely could have been played with more but I found it interesting to see the nuanced, more emotional perspective of one miner and his wife with the chorus emphasizing their every move be it in a circle around the female protagonist or in a strict formation around the male protagonist. There was something very endearing about the fusion of culture and climate into the performance as well as the dancing itself: the transition of orange to white colour wash to show heat and then the wife’s purity heightened the emotion, and the repeated use of the prayer was moving, particularly at the end when we are left with one woman left on stage.

This was my first ballet, and it certainly won’t be my last of Ballet Black’s; it was everything I wanted out of dance and more with the fresh soundtrack, unconventional themes and the full exploration of how movement can be translated into emotion. It truly opened my eyes to a world I didn’t believe I would ever see.

Elspeth


Audiences are sure to be left spellbound by Ballet Black’s trilogy of bold and beautiful routine. I certainly was. They’re a company built of black and Asian dancers, proving the importance of inclusive performance. They have spun a new web of traditional ballet and dance.
Their three pieces, Pendulum, CLICK! and Ingoma, capture dance’s capability to tell stories, rich in depth and emotive power.
The company have hit recent fame after their glorious feature in Stormzy’s 2019 Glastonbury set. They’re breaking boundaries of diversity in dance. They were the first in a revolution, manufacturing dance shoes for every skin tone. Revolution is the theme charging behind every dance, and the power is palpable.
The performance began with Martin Lawrence’s breath-taking Pendulum. The piece was bound by the relationship between movement and the sound imitating the relationship between lovers. An intense sound collage builds up throughout, and the dancer’s movements contributed to the climax. The piece was incredibly passionate and emotive, showcasing insert name’s choreography brilliantly. Though a stripped back duet, a towering precedent was set.

CLICK!, choreographed by the Sophie Laplane (Scottish Ballet’s choreographer-in-residence), was a burst of fresh routine. The dance revolved around colours: yellow, pink and green, blue and red. There were five dancers, each dressed in a pant suit of one of the colours. A matching coloured spotlight followed each dancer, creating a kaleidoscopic effect on stage as they span and soared. ‘Yellow’ represents the click, she revolves around the other dancers just as a click revolves through each song in the piece. It’s wonderfully fun and holds a charm that warms the stage from the hard passion in Pendulum.

The dancers’ skills are displayed to perfection. The dance is an ensemble, but also breaks off into stunning solos and duets, meaning each of the five dancers’ talent is showcased. CLICK! was mesmerising.

After a short interval, Ballet Black’s third and final dance began. This was the real show-stopper and is something I’m unlikely to forget anytime soon. It was the award-winning Ingoma, constructed by choreographer Mthuthuzeli November. The piece tells the story of the tragic miner’s strike in 1946, post-Apartheid South Africa. The dance was a victory in story-telling: emotive and a fully embodied narrative dance.

The visuals were stunning, the costume and choreography blending beautifully. The dancers’ stamina stands out, they never falter, proving the company to the best in the field at the moment. They keep up with the fast-paced and rhythmic score, intelligently crafted by South African composer Peter Johnson. Their movements are motivated to every beat.
This final dance combines Pendulum’s passion with CLICK!’s tempo, then adds a further dimension to the ballet: history.

The Triple Bill was a production that took pride in its musicality, tone and most importantly, its strength. At the dancers’ final bows, the Playhouse erupted in a standing ovation, and rightly so. This company are definitely a must see, an amazing experience.

Grace Sansom


Ballet Black are a professional dance company featuring only dancers of black or Asian descent. Their current show, performed at The Nottingham Playhouse in October, also goes on to tour throughout the UK and Europe with a stop off at major London theatre, The Barbican. This show is a triple bill of routines cleverly pieced together by Artistic Director Cassa Pancho and beautifully choreographed by Sophie Laplane, Martin Lawrance and Mthuthuzeli November respectively.
I was not sure what to expect from this company. I assumed that there would be a fresh take on the traditional ballet style of dance and perhaps other forms of music would be used to denote African and Asian heritage. After all, the name Ballet Black is a bold statement in itself. I believe that this is a company of dancers and people showcasing pride in their culture and proving a point somewhat that our pre-conceived ideas of ballet are rightly to be challenged and discussed. This show managed all of this and more.

The first piece of choreography consisted of a male and female partnership dancing, at first, in total silence. In the audience, you could hear a pin drop. The dancers moved as though music was playing only in their heads and that their dance was not a show but a secret known only to the two of them. They danced separately and then together, they danced in synchronicity and then in canon, never wasting the space on stage. When music eventually enveloped them, the pace increased and the couple’s story became more intense. This dance was the most traditional of the bill with the dancers exploring and expressing classic lines to a tribal score and as the beat of the drum became a thrumming hum and the routine concluded the audience were visibly stirred and ready for part two.

‘Click’ was the name of the second routine and a more apt name could not have been selected. A complete change from the first number, this time six dancers took to the stage to perform the funkiest ballet routine I’ve ever seen. The game was catch the click and it was set to a fantastic soundtrack of funk and soul music with the lighting in perfect unison with the dancers and the music. Each dancer wore a brightly coloured, contemporary ensemble which made the stage pop with life and personality. This was my favourite section of the bill due to the way they interpreted the music using not only balletic moves but also elements of hip hop and disco. It was a slick, cheeky and well-arranged spectacle and an innovative way to perform a typically disciplined genre of dance.

After a brief interval came ‘Ingoma’. The longest routine of the three and by far the most powerful, this performance was visceral, raw, demanding and astounding. The narrative followed the workers of a mine and in my interpretation also showcased themes of slavery due to the nature of the backbreaking and unrelenting work the dance depicted. This was the only part of the show where props and a set were used. Wielding pick axes and digging up physical soil and rubble set apart from the main dance space (presumably to avoid an accident) provided another layer to this tale of struggle and torment. The music was a heady mixture of various styles including live singing from the performers, a sort of Africana chant which fed a feeling of anxiety and foreboding. There were one or two lulls in this piece which could have potentially been cut to shorten the routine however if you found yourself drifting from the performance it wasn’t long until you were swiftly pulled back in with a change in routine and music.

Having never seen any ballet other than the traditional productions of Swan Lake and Cinderella, I found this show to be exhilarating, inspiring and very current. This small but unique company should be very proud of themselves and their pioneering work in the world of dance and diversity.

Joanna Hoyes


Ballet Black Triple Bill, a combination of three masterful dances: Pendulum, Click, and Ingoma. All choreographed to accentuate the core beliefs and values of this ballet company. The company was founded 18 years ago by Artistic Director Cassa Pancho MBE with the aim of true inclusion for all as the company consists of Black and Asian dancers. The first dance Pendulum is choreographed by Martin Lawrence and explores the elements of a close partnership. The second dance Click, choreographed by Sophie Laplane takes a ‘groovier’ turn delving into the clicking of fingers. The final dance Ingoma choreographed by Mthuthuzeli November examines the struggle South African families experienced in the 1940s with themes that are even relevant today.

Beginning with Pendulum. We start with a thundering bang on the drums but no music, with only two dancers on stage, one woman and one man. It becomes apparent throughout this dance there is some sort of battle happening. To me, this dance represented the battle of the races and how through time there has been the constant clash between them. For example, at moments of the piece, one dancer would be positioned at the side to witness the other whilst the other would dance around the stage. It is in this dance there is a particularly good use of the full stage, important in ballet to ensure all the audience is reached.

Unison is used very well in this piece and throughout all three dances highlighting the united force of those who are fighting the battle. To start with, the two dancers seem far apart but as it escalates, the dancers become closer to each other and I believe this is the battle coming to an end, and this spirit of unification is coming to light because hatred is not needed. This is especially apparent in the use of costumes because both dancers wore the same black clothing, which in my opinion is such a strong message that every human is the same, no matter what the colour of their skin is.

Click, the second dance was a bigger performance compared to the first as it included five dancers. My favourite out of the three was this one, just through the music and the movement alongside it. Centre stage saw Isabela Coracy dressed in yellow, leading the others as they danced behind her in unison. Her solo performance used amazing synchronicity alongside the background music making the performance more engaging to watch. The constant motif throughout this dance to me was clearly the clicking of fingers which to me entails some sort of command. The director of this piece, Sophie Laplane has made this message clear within her choreography as she illustrates this communication through the ‘snap your fingers and I’ll come running’ duet in the middle of the dance. Coloured lighting is especially important because it highlights the emotions that are felt in the moment. For example, part of the dance between those in the red and blue suit goes hand in hand with the slower, more sorrowful background music, evidently stressing the dejection within this part. The conclusion of this dance brings together all those in coloured suits quickening their body movements to the clicks, bringing the message to a clear end that the clicking of fingers is a simple, yet forceful command.

Ingoma the final dance I would say perhaps isn’t the clearest story compared to the others, but still exhibits a powerful performance to those watching. From what I know, this dance is about the struggle South African families experienced. This struggle was showcased well by the dancers as near the end of the dance, with no music in the background, the loudness of them each inhaling and exhaling expressed how they were tired, perhaps by what was put upon them to conclude their struggle during this era. A key dancer that stood out not only in this dance, but others was Sayaka Ichikawa. Pure emotion is a phrase that comes to mind when I saw her dance, especially in Ingoma which saw her centre stage, pounding the air as she danced around the stage, skilfully using the space she had. Her facial expressions, of heartache and woe bought a tear to my eye as in front of me, I could feel the sadness she was feeling within the moment as well as the passion she puts into this dance. The music within this piece was empowering with the dancing that accompanied it as again, unison between the dancers played a key part in the impact of the movement on stage. For instance, as a prayer from Xhosa played, all dancers in sync simply illustrates the desire and hunger of all dancers of this company to send an important message to others through what they love to do best, dance. However, it was this prayer that played in the background that confused me somewhat on the background story of the dance as I know it was an interpretation on the struggle of South African families, but it made me question how and why religion was involved.

Simply a beautiful and such an impactful performance by a passionate company that I believe represents great values and messages. All three performances were executed immensely well and showcased such powerful narratives through dance.

Katie Green


On Tuesday the 15th October 2019, I got to witness the outstanding performances given by the performers at the dance company ‘Ballet black’. From the breath-taking beginning to the heart-aching end, never did any of the audience member’s eyes circulate the room, as like glue, they were fixated on the magic that was exploding on the stage. This was especially impressive because in the heavily diverse audience where there were people of all different genders and races, there were children as young as 5 y/o who (in my experience) are quite difficult to keep focussed for more than 30 minutes in a seat without even the slightest fidgeting. Every transition was another heartbreak , because although beautiful to watch my only wish was for the dancers to get back on stage and dance for another 20 hours… each!

A telecom went off and announced a reminder for all electronic devices to be turned off, the lights went dim and two dancers entered the stage. These dancers were Sayaka Ichikawa and Mthuthuzeli November. They had matching black and grey costumes that were quite contemporary. It started with a pulsing sound that resembled a heartbeat, no music played but from the beginning the audience zoned in straight away, fully focused. As it progressed it was as if the audience were holding their breath in anticipation of what was going to happen. At first the dancers seemed to be out of time as if the dancers were performing side-by-side individual solos, both doing separate contrasting movements, however as it progressed their movements seemed to link as they would occasionally perform the same gestures at the same time. My favourite part of this piece was when both dancers (Mthuthuzeli stage right, Sayaka stage left) both performed side by side foettes (Mthuthuzeli male version and Sayaka female). I’ve never seen them professionally done on stage before but it was beautiful to watch and both of them had excellent technique and form and were wonderfully in time with each other. As the dance continued the speed of the sound suddenly quickened and became more hectic and to match it their moves quickened in pace, becoming sharper more complex and more staccato.

As the night progressed on five dancers filled the stage in florescent costumes lighting up the stage. There were two side by side mirrored duets and one centre stage solo by a woman in a bright yellow suit. The music was more up-beat and contemporary (making the audience want to dance) and featured a mixture of high and low levels. The fluorescent different coloured spotlights only added to the energy of the dance! The women in the duets performed on point pirouettes dancing off-balance which looked extra-ordinary and showcased their amazing technical abilities. Next the dancers parted and Yellow suit was left on stage for her click solo.

My favourite parts consisted of the duet featuring two black male and female dancers. It was an extremely classical piece featuring excellent turns and extremely legato movements. They danced as if it were the last time they were going to dance together and as it is seen so little in the media of two black dancers performing a professional ballet duet, seeing it on stage really brought that recognition to light and fabricated the idea into an ideal reality which I thought was quite inspirational.

Rachel Hamilton


Ballet Black; a unique and transgressive company who I now, utterly admire. Cassa Pancho, the Founder and Artistic Director, presents a true culturally diverse trio of performances, giving us the unexpected and untraditional, and gladly so.

I’m not one for attending ballet or even enjoying it which is why I quit at a young age. I appreciate the talent and beauty that is put forth in performance, but it’s not really my cup of tea. But, with Ballet Black…I was incredibly curious to view something so remarkably different to the conventional ballet.

The Triple Bill begins with ‘Pendulum’, a truly beautiful intimate duet, comprised by Martin Lawrance. The first thing I thought was: ‘this is intense’ from the roaring sound of breathing that took over the theatre. The piece was like a showdown coordinating to the beat of the music, which was almost like wind. It was a passionate love affair between two people that appeared in distress, where the intensity was greatly felt by the way they looked at each other with such intent. I can only assume that this was a battle of feelings towards one another? Maybe their undeniable need for each other? A piece on their emotional turmoil? The talent was undeniable, and I was captivated by the Steve Reich score at the beginning, but for me, this was probably the more traditional out of the three leading me to zone out at times.

‘CLICK!’, the second piece, an original by Sophie Laplane, was utterly brilliant. There was so much colour and vibrancy from the second the performers set foot on stage. The conspicuously coloured costumes by designer Tann Seabra; blue, red, yellow, green, pink, in that order; mirrored the fantastic lighting design by David Plater. The performance was immensely funky and groovy; I was enthralled by the physical clicking and tapping to the beat, both hands and feet. I felt like I was in a 70s disco! The performers would communicate with the audience by giving an occasional quirky smile and wink, embracing the cheekiness of the character’s personalities. This added so much enjoyment on stage which really transferred onto the audience. The lighting was spectacular for me, where, like the performers, it worked in time with the beat and gave a powerful end to the dance from using the colours masterfully and energetically altogether like fireworks, from side to side and then everywhere. An overall, unique and remarkable performance which I’d willingly watch again.

Lastly, Ingoma, a fusion of singing, ballet and African dancing, created by company dancer and choreographer Mthuthuzeli November. A meaningful piece on the South African miners and their struggles in 1946, leading to 16,000 taking strike action. The performance begins with the theatre lights remaining on, but suddenly performers emerge from the audience. The lighting was confusing at first as it wasn’t completely clear whether this was part of the performance. Yet, this added to my increasing intrigue. The lights turn off and the performers begin to use their helmet lights, creating an intimidating feel from the coordinating movement of light, which felt and looked like a scene from War of the Worlds. And a war it was with the harsh stomping, low pitched singing and desperate praying. Then the shock really kicked in when we witness the frailty of the woman’s fingers in the way they shake, emphasising the desperation and pure weakness that she feels from knowing her assumed husband would have to leave her for the mines. Such small movements from her fingers were displayed, yet it didn’t deny the incredibly powerful devastating meaning behind it. This was an incredible performance which was completely tear jerking and pulled on each and every one of heart strings.

Although all performances were amazing as individual pieces, I found the Triple Bill confusing as a whole. It may have been more emotionally impactful and may have flowed better had the performances linked in some way, as it was discombobulating to go from one extreme emotion and storyline to another. Nonetheless, The Triple Bill is a must see for those who love dance and those who are looking for something to keep you on your toes (literally).

Tegan Wallace